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The Orgasmic Mind: The Neurological Roots of Sexual Pleasure

Achieving sexual climax requires a complex conspiracy of sensory and psychological signals—and the eventual silencing of critical brain areas



Peter Turner/Getty Images (silhouette of head); Altrendo Images/Getty Images (fireworks)

She did not often have such strong emotions. But she suddenly felt powerless against her passion and the desire to throw herself into the arms of the cousin whom she saw at a family funeral. “It can only be because of that patch,” said Marianne, a participant in a multinational trial of a testosterone patch designed to treat hypoactive sexual desire disorder, in which a woman is devoid of libido. Testosterone, a hormone ordinarily produced by the ovaries, is linked to female sexual function, and the women in this 2005 study had undergone operations to remove their ovaries.

After 12 weeks of the trial, Marianne had felt her sexual desire return. Touching herself unleashed erotic sensations and vivid sexual fantasies. Eventually she could make love to her husband again and experienced an orgasm for the first time in almost three years. But that improvement was not because of testosterone, it turned out. Marianne was among the half of the women who had received a placebo patch—with no testosterone in it at all.

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